Questions From Readers
After showing that a child is like a slave because of being under the stewardship of others until he is of age, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, writes: “Likewise we also, when we were babes, continued enslaved by the elementary things belonging to the world.” (Gal. 4:1-3) He then proceeds to show that God’s Son came at the “full limit of the time” and released those Jews becoming his disciples from being under the Law in order that they might receive the “adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:3-7) Similarly, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned the Christians at Colossae against being carried off “through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ; because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.” They should have “died together with Christ toward the elementary things of the world.”—Col. 2:8, 9, 20.
Being set in contrast with what such Christians now enjoyed, the “elementary things of the world” evidently are the fundamental or primary principles followed by those who are not true Christians, persons who are a part of the world alienated from God. An American Translation renders the Greek expression for “elementary things of the world” as “material ways of looking at things.” Of course, the way a person views things is determined by the principles that he follows.
The text we are considering, Colossians 2:8, indicates that these primary principles or “elementary things” include the philosophies and deceptive teachings based on human standards, concepts, reasonings and myths, things in which the Greeks and other non-Jewish peoples reveled. Additionally, as evident from Colossians 2:16-18 and Galatians 4:4–5:4, the “elementary things” embraced the non-Biblical Jewish teachings calling for asceticism and “worship of the angels” as well as the teaching that Christians must observe the Mosaic law in order to gain salvation.
But was not the Mosaic law of divine origin? Certainly. How, then, could its observance be referred to as one’s being enslaved to the “elementary things of the world”?
We must remember that the Law had been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He was the “reality” to which the Law’s ‘shadows,’ including the temple and the sacrifices there carried on, pointed. The Law had therefore served its purpose and so was no longer the standard for judgment. (Col. 2:13-17) Not only this, but these Christians to whom the apostle Paul wrote were called to heavenly, spirit life. The Law was for humans, was composed of “legal requirements pertaining to the flesh,” even its tabernacle (and later temple) could be called “worldly” (Heb. 9:1, 10, Kingdom Interlinear Translation; “mundane,” Moffatt) in the sense that it was part of the human sphere, something built and used in the world of mankind, not something heavenly or spiritual. But now Christians were called to the superior way of worship based on Christ Jesus, who had entered into heaven itself. (Heb. 9:11, 24) Of Jesus Christ, in a letter to the Colossians the apostle said that “all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily” in him. (Col. 2:9) That being so, then Jesus Christ—not humans and their principles or teachings, nor even the now fulfilled Mosaic law—was to be recognized as God’s appointed standard for his servants, hence as the full means of measuring the truth with regard to any teaching or way of life.
As the apostle had counseled the Christians at Colossae, similarly he wrote those in Galatia not to be like children by voluntarily placing themselves under that which was likened to a ‘pedagogue’ or ‘tutor,’ namely, the Mosaic law. Their relationship with God was now like that of a grown son with his father. The Mosaic law had become “elementary,” as compared with the Christian teaching. So it would have been wrong for Christians to turn back to the “weak and beggarly elementary things” of the human sphere. They possessed the full truth.
Similarly, today people forming the world alienated from God live according to certain philosophies of life and customs that are out of harmony with God’s Word. But to them, this is the “practiced” way to life, a way typified by such expressions as: “The end justifies the means”; “It’s a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world where it’s ‘every man for himself’”; “All’s fair in love and war.” They lack the wisdom from above, spiritual insight. (Jas. 3:13-18) As Christians we must exercise care that we do not slip into following worldly principles in conducting our family and business affairs and in dealing with others. A Christian does well to ask himself, Am I wholly guided by God’s Word and by the example and teachings of his Son in everything that I do, or am I letting myself be influenced by the popular sayings of this world?